Another Vietnam

THINKING FOR OURSELVES
Another Vietnam
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, October 24, 2009

President Obama has made it clear that he will not rush to judgment about Afghanistan. There are a number of factors involved in his decision. The request by General McChrystal for a massive troop commitment would put the United States on a course of long term warfare with an undefined sense of victory for years to come. An immediate withdrawal, the President has said, is an option he is not considering. He is looking for a “middle ground.” Meanwhile, he is bringing pressure on Hamid Karzai to accept the findings of the Independent Electoral Commission and participate in a run-off election because of the level of fraud in the August vote.

Taking time to make a decision has the Republican Party furious. Calling deliberations “dithering,” the right wing is demanding decisive action and blind endorsement of generals. Generals, too, are expressing their impatience. Media reports that a number of active duty and retired senior offers are concerned that the president is moving too slowly and that he is revisiting war strategies for political motives. Obama advisor Nathaniel C. Fick, a former Marine officer and now chief executive of the Center for a New American Security, says, “The thunderstorm is there and it’s kind of brewing and it’s unstable and the lightning hasn’t struck, and hopefully it won’t.” It’s a “volatile brew.” The National Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Thomas J. Tradewell, Sr., criticized the President for strengthening the resolve of the enemy. “The extremists are sensing weakness and indecision within the U.S. government, which plays into their hands,” he said.

Whatever the particular policy outcome of this process, Afghanistan has finally made it to the center of political discussion. Long ignored and little understood, Americans are at last paying attention to the war. And in this short month of discussion one thing is becoming very clear.

The more we know about Afghanistan, the less we want to be there. The American people are increasingly opposed to this war effort. The latest CNN poll conducted over the weekend found that 59% of Americans oppose sending additional troops to Afghanistan. A majority, 52%, believe that Afghanistan has become “another Vietnam.” While most people believe we have to maintain some level of involvement, 57% oppose the war.

Much of this opposition has been fueled by the media coverage now emerging from Afghanistan. In stories about the daily lives of U.S. soldiers, captured journalists and Pakistani war efforts, a very grim and hauntingly familiar picture is emerging. The government we are supporting is corrupt. The people we are opposing have managed to establish a government that provides what we cannot: electricity, good roads, schools, accountable leaders. Every action we take to secure an area makes more enemies for us, provides more reasons for people to join the opposition. Increasing military efforts only increase civilian displacements, insecurity and instability.

Meanwhile, military leaders continue to think that increasing force will somehow solve political problems. Over the last few weeks we have seen an aggressive effort by some in the military to dominate public discussion. As a result, for the first time in many years, we are also being forced to have a discussion about the proper role of a military in a democracy. This discussion, like our policy in Afghanistan, is long overdue.

Just as we have been learning about the developments within Afghanistan, many Americans have been reminded that regardless of the war, regardless of the President, most generals have historically asked for the same thing: more troops.

Now is the time to turn away from such bad advice.

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